It was Melbourne Open House on Sunday, and on such a magnificent winter day, I just had to call into one of the locations while I was in the area. We had come across Toronto’s Open House while we were there, and London’s too for that matter, but I think that Open House days are meant for the residents of a city rather than visitors. Some of the sites are open year round so there was no great appeal there (unless you went to parts of the building not normally accessible), but I was more drawn to places that are not normally open to the public. I was walking past Bishopscourt and had always been intrigued by it- so Bishopscourt it was!
Bishopscourt is located in Clarendon Street, opposite the Fitzroy Gardens. It has been the family home of the Anglican Bishop and later Archbishop of Melbourne since it was built in 1853.
If it looks a bit of a hodge-podge, that’s because it is. The first Bishop of Melbourne, Bishop Perry, selected the location so that he could walk into Melbourne itself, while being close to the site that was originally considered for the Cathedral between Hotham and George Streets in East Melbourne . It was later decided to construct the Cathedral in its present location on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets. Construction of Bishopscourt began in 1851 but because of the shortage of building labourers in these goldrush years, the house was not completed until 1853. Sixty years later it was decided that a grander house was required. One of the bluestone wings was demolished in 1903 and replaced with the rather discordant red-brick wing, resulting in its rather schizophrenic appearance.
Although constructed in wealthier gold-rush days, the design of the bluestone section evokes an earlier, more Georgian influence with its French windows and shutters, wide doors and simple architecture.
The bluestone is rather roughly laid on the front and side of the house, and it has been suggested that perhaps it was intended that the facade be stuccoed at a later time. The new red-brick section included a large dining room and a private chapel which was a warm, intimate space that might hold perhaps twenty people. I wish they had let us take photographs, because the chapel was very special place, with many of the furnishings and decorations donated by previous occupants.
Tours ran approximately every half hour and you were ushered from one room to another, where someone who had previously lived at Bishopscourt spoke about their memories of the room as part of their family home. The Archbishop of Melbourne was there in the drawing room, decked out in his purpleness, and the daughters and daughter-in-law of the former Archbishop Frank Woods spoke in the morning room, dining room and chapel. Unfortunately we were restricted to the ground floor- I was intrigued by the staircase which was carved with silhouettes of bishops’ mitres- but I suppose that some privacy was in order as the house continues to be used as a family home: the only pre-gold rush estate still to be used for its original purpose.
The gardens have been rescued from disrepair by a dedicated band of volunteers and they were in beautiful condition.
As I left, there was a religious pilgrimage of a different type through the Fitzroy Gardens as the crowds headed towards the MCG for the Collingwood/Essendon match.
Ah- the footy and the MCG on a sunny winter afternoon- hot pies (unfortunately), seagulls, the Footy Record and Jolimont railway station. Who could want for more?
By the way, I wasn’t the only one checking out Melbourne Open House. Andrew at High Riser had a very busy day and more success photographing than I did.